Today I would like to welcome British author Philip Catshill to MONDAYS ARE MURDER. After two debilitating strokes, the loss of his career as a police officer, the ending of his marriage and estrangement of his children, he has managed to fight his way back to the Land of the Living. I think you will find his story both intriguing and inspiring. After checking out his books, please stop by his website and take a look at some of his paintings. http://philipcatshill.webplus.net/Page%203.html
Laurie: Good morning Philip. It’s so good of you to take this time to share yourself and your books with us. To start off, what are the names of your novels? Please tell us something about each.
Philip: My first novel in the Mike Newman Mysteries is called Who Else Is There? Given that the prologue tells the reader that there is an unsolved murder from 10 years before this story begins, and the person responsible is a serving policeman, I’m not giving too much away by telling you that this is a gritty murder story with a twist or two. A detective is murdered while guarding an essential witness. It gradually dawns to the investigating officers that there is a murderer in their ranks. There is a killer in the police, but there is something else. There is an underlying feeling that there is something sinister going on. It becomes clear that the police themselves are turning to serious crime. If you can’t trust the police, who else is there? But there is also a paranormal meaning to the title. As Mike Newman, who is a police sergeant, struggles to recover from a life-threatening assault, he becomes aware that he is “seeing” dead people. As Mike shares what he prefers to think of as hallucinations conjured up by his damaged brain, another crime victim finds that she shares the experiences and applies a paranormal interpretation. She begins to question, “Who Else is There?”
As the first story ends, so the second novel, Suffer Little Children begins. During the six months of Mike’s illness, his children have been living with his childless sister-in-law and her policeman husband. While Mike is back in hospital after another injury, the children are abducted. Every policeman in Hartingham joins in the desperate search, but not every policeman has the same motive. Corruption spreads through his former station and with it comes evil. Mike falls from hero to zero as he finds himself vilified by the press. With his credibility falling under scrutiny, Mike is immediately dismissed from the police. Being unable to search for his daughters, he turns his attention to a death in the hospital. Mike receives support from an unexpected encounter and the return of colourful characters from the previous novel.
Laurie: Thank you for sharing those synopses with us. Who else is there? and Suffer Little Children are your Mike Newman mysteries. Tell us about Mike Newman. Who is he? What are his strengths? His weaknesses? What drives him?
Phillip: Mike Newman is a police sergeant, or soon to be former police sergeant, whose life and career are threatened when a blow on his head causes a severe stroke. Before the stroke, Mike was a strong, healthy, sociable policeman who was popular with his colleagues and respected by criminals. His dedication and unerring sense of fairness are seen by some as strength, by others as weakness. Occasionally his respect for others is described as naïve. After the stroke, this naivety is all that his friends can identify, but Mike is still driven by his sense of fairness and the need for justice. Mike had a reputation in the police, in that he had never given up, not in a struggle with a criminal, a brawl in a public house or a chase. The old, pre-stroke Mike Newman rose to the challenge and would never give up in a fight. This characteristic has remained, but these days, the fight is with half a body paralysed by stroke. At times, the depression so common in stroke victims overwhelms Mike, who then describes himself as half-brained, half-bodied and, when it comes to his relationships, not even half a man. It is not all doom and gloom for Mike. He still has some humour. These novels are available for all EBook readers from the usual outlet. Although they have both attracted independent 5 star reviews, I have not found a literary agent or publisher in the UK to take them on. In the current economic climate, there seems to be a reluctance to take on anyone new. I am still hoping that there is a literary agent or a publisher out there who would like to help them into print. Hopefully, the person I need is reading this right now.
Laurie: From the reviews you’ve received, it’s clear your books have a unique appeal. I hope for you, too that an agent or publisher discovers this. Please tell me, how much of yourself do you see in Mike Newman – or is he a totally different personality?
Philip: While I was a serving police sergeant, I had a stroke at the same age, so I know first-hand both the physical, mental and emotional difficulties that Mike is going through in these novels. My third book is called “C.V.A. A hard way back” and is a reflection of my eighteen month battle to get back to working after my first stroke. I was able to use some of this experience to provide Mike with a reason for some of the events that he got involved in, but for the most part, all the characters come from my imagination. Reviewers have remarked that the characters are realistic, but they are entirely fictional. What I have tried to do is to give my characters some life and make them into identifiable individuals. As in real life, each has their own mannerisms, language idioms and habits which allow my readers to get to know the characters as the novels progress. Some will be loved; some will be detested.
Laurie: When did you first decide you wanted to write a novel? Why?
Philip: Over the years, I think I have had at least a dozen false starts with different ideas. Even before my first stroke I had a few chapters for a novel involving a few turn of the century outlaws in the American West, which reflected my interest at the time. With my 60th birthday coming last year, I decided to write a brief account of the stroke I had 30 years before and the eighteen months it took to get back to my work as a police sergeant. It was one of those serious illnesses where, at the time, the likelihood of living another 30 hours seemed rather remote. The stroke happened simply because my head was in the way when a friend slammed the car boot (trunk) lid shut. Stupidly, I ignored the dizziness and later, I had a few drinks at a party. The account is now published as an EBook, but somewhere along the line, I thought, “What if the injury had been deliberate?” Thus, the seeds for the first novel were sown.
Laurie: I notice that you have added a warning on the “sell pages” of Who Else is There? Does that mean that the novel contains excessive violence?
Philip: I have had to make a decision with respect to how I describe the different crimes in these novels. I mentioned before that the first novel is a gritty crime novel. I do not gloss over crime or treat it glibly. I was brought up on a diet of Saturday night television westerns where the hero could receive a smack on the back of the head with a pistol. He would bounce up just after the commercial break suffering no ill effects. In real life, that does not happen. I find it disturbing that some authors can produce twenty or thirty books about their hero detective, who seems to solve serious crime on the scantiest of evidence. They can then move on to the next crime, without ever referring to the effects that crime leaves in its wake. Even petty crime affects its victims, and major crime can have long lasting consequences for the victim, those associated with the victim, the offender and even the police themselves. Physical recovery from injury can take months. It is these long term effects that some readers find disturbing, but others find gripping. In my novels, you will rarely find any description of violence as it happens. In fact, the most serious attacks are not described except in the course of the investigation. As one reviewer points out, it is far more effective to learn how an attack has affected the lives and emotions of those concerned. It follows that the Mike Newman Mysteries will be for adult reading only.
Laurie: On your website you showcase your paintings, which are astounding. Tell us how you got started painting. What subjects do you like to paint, and why?
Philip: Once again, I think I have returned to an interest that I had before the original stroke. In those days, I made some pencil sketches of various politicians that were in the news. I have never recovered the full use of my right hand so, after that first stroke, I had to become left handed. As it explains in my book, I had already applied to the Open University to enter the degree programme so I spent the next few years forcing my damaged brain to do a bit of thinking. Because I had to take a break from the studying to concentrate on my work, it took nine years to get my degree. Anyone who has read my profile on any of the social media sites will know that my first marriage ended after twenty years. By their choice, my children, who were in their mid and late teens at the time of the break up, have chosen to remain estranged. They will also know how vital prayer became in my life. Through prayer, I pulled myself back from a breakdown. Through prayer, I was to meet a second family and find happiness again. I resumed my studies and, two weeks after my final exam, I married. 16 days later, a car accident brought on a second stroke. I have been left with permanent disabilities, which have ended my police career.
My wife’s mother was a member of an art group. As I slowly started to recover from my car accident injuries, I staggered along. Obviously, I wasn’t able to use my right hand, so what you see is what I have achieved using my non-dominant hand. There is nothing clever in what I achieve. Some people hold a paintbrush in their toes, now that is clever. (I can’t even reach mine!) My style of painting is to aim for realism and drama, so the ballet is a natural choice. I saw my first ballet in 1982. I was mesmerised and besotted, but my enthusiasm wasn’t shared. Fortunately my second wife is a former ballroom dancer. We attend every single ballet that we can. We subscribe to the Birmingham Royal Ballet which is quite simply, the best.
As for my previous family, my children are now in their late 30s. A glimmer of hope came my way five years ago when my youngest daughter contacted me, but that hope was quickly squashed under foot. I cannot begin to describe the pain of this separation. I have never seen my grandchild who had her 4th birthday in January, but I have six others that are happy to call me granddad! Prayer works. That’s all I can say.
Laurie: Thank you for sharing this very personal side of yourself. I hope anyone in difficult circumstances will be encouraged by reading what you achieved after your strokes, and how prayer changed your life. As for creating magnificent paintings using your non-dominant hand, I believe it is a real talent. Most of us would not be able to write our own name with our non-dominant hand.
What are you currently working on?
Philip: I haven’t painted for a number of years. I think the soul fell away from the passion when my wife’s mother died. Painting was something we did together. It doesn’t feel the same nowadays. She was so funny in the things she said and did, and her descriptions were worthy of note. Very soon after meeting her for the first time, I was still trying to impress when she offered me a plate of two types of round biscuits and said, “The cherry biscuits without cherries in are ginger.” I still have all the painting paraphernalia. Who knows, it might happen again. I’m not sure. In the meantime, I have Mike Newman to sort out, so I am currently working on the third novel. Readers of the second book might remember that Mike frequently saw a woman he had known from his police days. Beatrice Swan always wore a green housecoat and Mike makes a startling discovery which needs investigating. He still has significant physical disabilities and his emotions are constantly thrown into turmoil. Even his mental faculties are questioned as a local Member of Parliament seems determined by any means, to have him locked away!
I have to get this story finished soon because the following is screaming to be started. Ideas are buzzing round in my mind. Writing has become an obsession. Readers are already asking if Sandra and James are ever going to get their act together! On the one hand, if James could only stop dithering for a moment or two, the fictitious city of Hartingham would find themselves with a brilliantly skilful doctor. I’m sure if James asks, Sandra, the youngest detective ever appointed, might even say yes!
Laurie: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about yourself or your work?
Philip: I haven’t mentioned The Writers Collection! This is a group of writers from different genres from both sides of the Atlantic, who were invited by the American author Dennis Sheehan, to submit on a weekly basis, short stories or poems on a set subject. The first were published on December 4th. The subject was Brazil and the stories amazingly diverse. Subjects since have included Beaches, Christmas and Brotherswater! Every one of these stories is excellent, and I would encourage everyone to go to the site. I counted the stories earlier, and there are over 80 stories or poems on the site so far! Members are being interviewed on Westchester Radio, so I am practising talking without sounding too much like a drunk. My talk is on Monday 27th February, so I would ask you to wish me luck! The radio programmes are available on the web. This link is the one for my interview on 27th, just change the date for any other recent Monday to hear the other authors. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/westchesteronthelevel/2012/02/27/westchester-on-the-level# A link appears on the Writers Collection web site, which is http://www.thewriterscollection.com It is an excellent platform for developing new ideas. Through it, I’ve developed a series of (fictitious) childhood reflections as well as the occasional ghost story.
Finally, a message for anyone who is facing similar health issues to my own. My mantra is “Never say I can’t.” If this 60 year old half-brained, half-bodied former policeman can do it with God’s help… so can everyone else! Thanks for the interview opportunity, Laurie. I wish you success with your own Hawaiian mystery novel, “Almost Paradise”.